Two early 20th century greats, Ardengo Soffici and Felice Carena, on display together in Poggio a Caiano

From October 26, 2019 to January 11, 2020, the Soffici Museum in Poggio a Caiano (FI) is hosting the exhibition 'Soffici and Carena. Ethics and Nature'.

From October 26, 2019 to January 11, 2020, the Museo Soffici e del ’900 italiano in Poggio a Caiano (Florence) is dedicating an exhibition to the relationship between Ardengo Soffici (Rignano sull’Arno, 1879 - Vittoria Apuana, 1964) and Felice Carena (Cumiana, 1879 - Venice, 1966): entitled Soffici and Carena. Ethics and Nature and curated by Luigi Cavallo with the collaboration of Oretta Nicolini and Luigi Corsetti, the exhibition presents thirty-six works by each artist, including several previously unpublished works (starting with self-portraits) to exalt the two contemporaries’ similarities of outlook on the ethical, professional, moral and ideal levels, each with their own convictions and adherences as far as they were concerned.’aesthetics, but with references on which their esteem converged (Cézanne, Spadini, Medardo Rosso, and common friendships, among them Carlo Carrà, Filippo de Pisis, sculptors Romano Romanelli and Giuseppe Graziosi).

The exhibition itinerary of the review consists of drawings and paintings that offer a concise anthological view of their taste and founding proposals: art as thought in which meditation and simplicity count, research projects involving meaning, beauty, and the value of ideal territories. The combination of ethics and nature was the constant commitment of both Soffici and Carena; the essence of their participation in the evolution of Italian history can be seen, albeit with different voices, as the strong appeal to natural reality, to the essential condition of the individual, macerated to the point of poverty and in line with our tradition that is memory of the past and active work to propose it in the present day.

Among the unpublished works on display, as anticipated, are also two self-portraits, Soffici’s from 1946, a kind of autobiography in the form of a painting, and Carena’s from 1950, which expresses a deep desire for abstraction. The exhibition itinerary proposes, with Soffici, a 1903 Figure that recalls his early Parisian experiences in the postimpressionist sphere and continues with a cartoon for humor magazines that refers to the work that allowed the painter to support himself economically in the French capital. Soffici’s art is then shown through the landscapes of 1907 and 1908, which, after his return from Paris, initiate the activity that was to be the author’s most characteristic: the figurative order that is succinctly expressed d’après nature. Still lifes, a 1932 fresco and a 1948 Trofeino, document the different phases that Soffici carried out from the Cubofuturist period to the realism of plastic values. Poggio a Caiano, captured in the different views, remains the protagonist of Soffici’s culture and suggests the depth of his relationship with a simple place elected as a sign of life. Several watercolors are surprising for the rarity of the luminous bearing, a creative component that had a great admirer in Emilio Cecchi.

Felice Carena’s journey begins with two 1904 paintings of conspicuous format that give a sense of his formal commitment marked by a Romantic-Symbolist reading of figuration, which is also very evident in the dancing inebriated Putti of 1909. In the two flower compositions of 1914 and 1917 there is a real joyful explosion that the painting expresses fully in color. A rare Anticolan Landscape (1919) and a portrait of his wife (1920) present an artist more forthrightly interested in reality; some drawings from 1922-1925 give the measure of his plastic expertise. The 1930s, those in which Carena directed the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, are represented with works of high value that hint at what levels of creative maturity the author had reached by relying on experimentation with chromatic matter, transparency of tone, and taste in composition. Finally, the Venetian period, 1946-1966, can be read as an increasingly refined spiritual itinerary in which form, together with color, is purified until it reaches the slight harmonies of still lifes.

Carena and Soffici had destinies, sharing values that were in some ways consonant. The path of public life saw them present in significant exhibition occasions with personal rooms that allowed close encounters with leading critics. Their cultural presence in the country was further affirmed with their election to the Accademia d’Italia (Carena in 1933, Soffici in 1939), the highest recognition of the time. Soffici did not change his life for the prestigious position: he continued as usual to paint and write at his own pace and custom secluded in his house in Poggio a Caiano. Carena nevertheless maintained the greatest commitment to the craft he loved, painting, often impatient with the fulfillments that his onerous assignments imposed on him. World War II demolished many common certainties; such a sudden upheaval of thought, politics and social values found them unprepared, even before they were exposed to serious personal consequences. Soffici taken to concentration camp, 1944-1945; Carena repaired to Venice. Despite adversity and distance, their friendship and esteem never soured. Indeed, the human understanding became even firmer, the exchanges marked by solidarity and brotherly warmth.

In the long postwar period they maintained an exemplary consistency of choices: Carena carrying on his research on matter and light oriented toward substantial unity between form and Christian spirituality. Soffici opening himself more and more to the wonders of nature, to the identification of the landscape with his own intimate lyricism. From this mixture he drew original transparencies: the field of vision, the chosen views (Poggio a Caiano or Versilia) hinted at what riches of harmony are always to be discovered when physical territory meets spiritual territory.

The exhibition opens Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Admission 5 euros. Free for children and young people up to 18 years old. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog from Edifir Edizioni. For info, see the Soffici Museum website.

Pictured is an unpublished work: Ardengo Soffici, Le fornaci del Poggio a Caiano (1908; oil on cardboard, 65x59.8 cm)

Two early 20th century greats, Ardengo Soffici and Felice Carena, on display together in Poggio a Caiano
Two early 20th century greats, Ardengo Soffici and Felice Carena, on display together in Poggio a Caiano

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